Chase Utley frustrated to have to sit
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Philadelphia Phillies haven't scheduled any trips to the operating room for Chase Utley -- yet. But the likelihood that their All-Star second baseman will need knee surgery grew Wednesday when the team announced that Utley's knee hadn't responded to a cortisone shot last Friday, so the club is now considering "other options."
Utley has played through numerous physical issues in the past, including knee tendinitis, and has come back ahead of schedule from other injuries. But even he said Wednesday this is not a condition he can play through.
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Utley, 32, hasn't played in any games this spring, and there now appears to be very little chance he will do so. The club announced Wednesday, in a statement from team doctor Michael Ciccotti, that Utley is suffering from patellar tendinitis, chondromalacia and bone inflammation, but that he hasn't responded to "non-operative care," including that cortisone shot, as he had in the past.
So while general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told reporters that the Phillies hadn't ruled out the chance of Utley being ready for Opening Day, the club is more concerned about getting Utley healthy over the long haul. And Utley himself echoed those sentiments.
"There is no timetable," he said. "We're not going to look for the short-term solutions. I want to be smart about this and realize that I have three years left under this contract to fulfill."
Asked if he expects to play this season, Utley replied: "As of now, my goal is to try to alleviate this as quickly as possible, but still keep in mind that I have a career ahead of me."
Utley has now battled a number of persistent injuries the past four years. He spent 31 days on the disabled list in 2007 with a broken bone in his right hand. He played through hip issues in 2008, then had surgery after that season and pushed himself to return by Opening Day, defying initial estimates that he could be out until May.
And last season, he spent 49 days on the disabled list with torn ligaments in his thumb, but returned several weeks early from that injury as well.
In this case, however, he admits that he's been experiencing enough pain in his knee that he has had to pull back from his normal frenetic spring pace.
"Batting doesn't bother me whatsoever," he said. "Playing catch doesn't bother me. It's more the pounding on it -- the jumping, the running, things like that. There's definitely pain there. I know the things I've had in the past have gone away, with treatment. Right now, it's not going away."
I'm trying to look at this in the big picture, and that's the frustrating part, because I think everyone that knows me best knows that the only place I'd rather be is on the field. So it is disappointing. But right now it's probably not in my best interests to be out there.” -- Chase Utley
Utley said he had no plans, for now, to leave the Phillies' camp to see a specific specialist.
"But we're trying to put as much information together as possible," he said. "We're trying to pick as many brains as possible to try and find out the best way to go about this."
Asked why, if surgery would keep him out for an estimated four to six weeks, he wouldn't just go ahead and have that surgery now, with three weeks left before Opening Day, he answered: "It's not that cut-and-dried."
Ciccotti said in his statement that the Phillies would continue "non-operative treatment." And Amaro told reporters that "we're trying to exhaust all those possibilities" besides surgery. But when Utley was asked what the "non-operative" options were, he said: "Those are things we're trying to figure out."
"We're trying to pick as many brains as possible to try to treat this appropriately," he said. "I imagine if you talk to 20 different doctors, you might hear 20 different opinions. So we're trying to get the best doctors in this field and go from there." If Utley isn't ready for Opening Day, Amaro said Wilson Valdez will be the Phillies' second baseman. However, the club has several players in camp who have played second base in the major leagues -- a list that includes non-roster players Delwyn Young, Josh Barfield and Pete Orr.
And if Utley requires surgery that would keep him out for a major chunk of the season, the team likely would consider options outside the organization.
Free agent David Eckstein is one possibility. The Phillies also checked in with the Rangers during the winter about the availability of Michael Young. But with their payroll pushing $160 million, with Utley signed for three more years and with third baseman Placido Polanco signed for two more years (plus an option), they would have a difficult time fitting Young into their picture long-term.
Senior writer Jayson Stark covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com.